Matilda left me out in the open once I got out of the boat and it was a glorious day to be free. I played a jaunty little tune to keep myself going, having played more music in the past eight hours than I had in the entire time I’d been learning to play more. There was a lot on my mind as I traveled through an unenchanted forest and saw in the distance that there was a massive castle with battlements and intimidating walls ahead of me. I stopped in my tracks after meandering through the short jaunt and saw for myself that I was probably way out of my depth. I didn’t have my gun, I only had a pen knife and my undlegar, and I was pretty sure that Zeotsu would fracture fingers when I cast it. Nothing looked good for me, so I designed another song for the hell of it and accidentally conjured a storm over the castle. It wasn’t immediate and I’m not entirely sure if it was me since a storm front seemed to kinda just form about thirty minutes after I gave the song a shot, but lo and behold, there was rain.
Scared of both myself and the coincidence if it was one at all, I couldn’t help but shake and shiver under my own daunting strength. I made a song calling for a storm and one came up. I wondered what would happen if I made a song calling for an extra life or something, but couldn’t decide what would sound good for something like that. I did, however, get discovered because I was signing and playing music, so I met a guy that wanted to kick my ass more than he wanted to get my autograph. A song may or may not have disappeared me from his view and ran inside, but you can’t prove anything. You can’t prove anything at all.
It took time for me to meander through the halls and even as I did, I felt like I was starting to learn more and more about Lake Lahgo as a whole. Warriors were being trained specifically to handle threats like Minstrels. They were practically being raised as fodder for the people surrounding me, and when I found a nice empty place to shut up and sit down for a second I processed some things I heard and tried to make sense of them. I mean, why would student talk about ‘slaying Minstrel meat like Slayday is Payday’ if they weren’t killing Minstrels? Why even have us in the Academy if we were just going to be killed? Was it the ones that tried to run? Was it the ones that didn’t perform? Was there a reason Wolvram set me free, or was I being way too paranoid. I had a small, quiet panic attack in a closet and tried to exit without being seen, but it wasn’t in the cards for me.
I was spotted immediately. Muscular people of all races started to surround me and I waved at them, trying to walk through the crowd until I got pushed back I held my undlegar and prepared a song to get myself out of danger should shit get shittier. It didn’t get shittier for a good while, not until some random woman with blue hair walked forward with a look to kill the devil. She seemed pretty upset, but the man that followed behind her was the one to fear. His black and silver hair told me that he was old enough to want to protect his territory, and the look in his eye told me that he was fully prepared to make me a decoration underground. Lean and toned, he reminded me a bit of a taller version of Max, especially with his eyes and hair. I walked up to him and he raised a sword, pointing it directly at my chest.
“Hi,” I greeted with a friendly smile, as friendly as I could get. “I need to find Stellara Inova.”
“Leave.” He grunted.
I popped my neck. “That’s all I need to know the score, the same ol’ thing won’t work no more. I’ll make you kneel you are my whore, now get on all fours and take me to the store!” I sang shortly before plucking away at my undlegar like a lunatic. Please work dumb shit. Please don’t let me die...
I got laughed at until the song continued and the laughter because hooping, hollering, and ruckus and general. People started square-dancing and fucking around in general. The sword wielding man went from scowling to winging his sword around freely as I kindly took off and let myself get out of the fray before it got started in earnest. Sadly, the second I let the notes start to fade, the people that I’d been controlling through song got mad and started yelling at me post-haste. That incentivized me to yuck it up with the country stuff and keep on plucking away until I found a good point to run the fuck away. Another song popped into my head, specifically I Believe I Can Fly. I had to slow down to play it softly, but I floated none the less until I was on the ceiling. Playing a song and trying to make another one at the same time was giving me a headache like no other, but I got Flipside Swing sung and forgot it as soon as I sang it. Life was getting rough and I only had myself and Sootina to blame, but there were still things I could do to get myself to not die.
With my day having run long and having used a shitton of Song Terru in such a short amount of time, I decided to nap on the ceiling, as was my right as a gravity-defying dude. The ceiling was hard and sucky, which made me really wish I had my jacket so I could at least have a pillow. Watching people pass underneath me left me a little scared, but when I tried finding another place to sleep, I eventually learned that I could walk anywhere, I just couldn’t jump. Trying saw me flying from the ceiling to a rafter, and that was a rough landing. I didn’t fall off but I came damn close to becoming a good ol’ splattercat on the floor and that just wasn’t where I wanted my life to end. Aching and severely wishing I had some food, I laid it down and called it a day.
I awoke to the sound of people churning beneath me, so I peeked over the rafter I was on and saw a lot of people looking up. I didn’t like that at all and learned why it was a bad thing as I saw the blue haired woman from the day before climbing a rope up to where I was. Bows bristled as I looked down along with crossbows and a few other kinds of firearms and whatnot. A shot rang out and my face subsequently hurt, so I rolled back over and felt a gash on my cheek that hadn’t been there previously. These people weren’t trying to beat me; They were trying to kill me. Panic hit me hard and I didn’t want to be where I was, but just as grabbed my repaired undlegar, my trusted instrument for the past two years, the neck broke from the bowl and I stared in horror as my lifeline snapped before my very eyes. A hand appeared on the rafter and I choked up, staring at the blue-haired lady as she came over the side like it was nothing and stood up. Cheers sounded from down below and I started backing up as best I could, scooting on the wooden structure as Bluman the Blue-Haired Human stalked closer and closer.
“Hey… Uh… Wouldn’t wanna happen to play a round of Parcheesi, would ya?” I asked , getting to my feet for a second.
She shoved me and I went down, but not to the floor. I panicked hard as she said, “Why did you even come here, Minstrel? How did you come here?”
“I-I came to talk to Stella… I accidentally broke the mind-control somnerre at the Academy. Got a ferryman to take me here.”
She stopped. “... You were allowed to come?”
“If by allowed you mean I snuck away, then yeah.”
“... How did the Weavers recruit you?”
“Terru and force?”
“... Why have you come for Stellara Inova? She is better off without you as a free woman.”
“... I just want to know if she ever really loved me back, I guess,” I said softly, my voice weak and meager.
Bluman gave me a look. “What makes you think she ever had a choice?”
My shoulders slumped and I felt a lot of my energy drain. “... Go figure.”
“I suppose that was callous of me.”
“Didn’t make it any less necessary, I think.” I paused for a bit. “... Can I at least say goodbye?”
Bluman raised a brow. “Why?”
“... We’ve been together for… for a while. She was my Partner and a good friend… It would be weirder to just cut ties.”
“The truth hurts. I warned you.” She turned around and went back down to the rope, shimmying like it was nothing.
I waited for her to go all the way down before I poked my head over the edge again, seeing that she was waving me down. It’s not that I was terrified of heights or anything, but the fall definitely scared the shit out of me. As I tried to climb down the rope, I ended up sliding about halfway down because my hands got sweaty and was almost fine for it other than a few nicks and scratches. People surrounded me at every junction until there was a break in the crowd. Stellara and Yuria were brought forward by the man from the day before and Bluman. Stellara stepped forward first, but was held back and scolded for breaking rank. She didn’t wear any outward sign of disagreement, which told me a lot in the first place.
Yuria came forth and promptly tried to smack me, to which I leaned forward and nearly headbutted her. Grata-non-Aquix was till in my muscle’s memory banks, so I followed the motions and countered with an open hand of my own, slapping her in turn. “How fucking dare you.” She stepped back and the man made to come after me, but I pointed a judicious finger at Yuria. “I am not your weapon. I am not your pawn. I am not your toy, and if I ever think you’re pulling bullshit again, I will not hesitate to make a song just for you and watch you turn into meat. We clear?”
She stared at me and her lip curled as she touched her cheek. “You- You’ve just made enemies around the globe! Dammit, Gatian. Why couldn’t-”
“Why couldn’t I fuckin’ what?” I asked, leaning forward, taking a step toward her. “Why couldn’t I be okay with being forcibly aged down and being brainwashed? Why couldn’t I be okay with being a pariah half the time and being hunted by your latest Shade?” I spread my hands. “ I fuckin’ met Matilda, Yuria. Got anything to say to that?”
Yuria paused and froze when a hand landed on her shoulder. Bluman gave Yuria an odd look. “Latest Shade?”
“Yureki is a Shade, Mistress Lahgo. She masquerades as a living being at times and emanates much power,” Stellara said softly.
Bluman seemed intrigued. “And if what your precious Gatian says is true, then he was effectively kidnapped for the sake of joining your cadre. We are forbidden from taking that choice from people, Yuria.”
“A moment, if you would,” Yuria asked sweetly.
“I know the boy is powerful,” Lahgo said flatly. “That much was obvious when he trapped me in one of your precious song Terru with an undlegar. That is no excuse.”
Yuria paled. “You- You would just let him walk freely? Without guidance?”
“Such is the will of a true man.”
“You’re out of your mind!”
“And you’re stepped out of your reach. Gatian will be allowed to leave since he did not choose to come,” Lahgo said with finality.
Yuria’s face went from pale to red in seconds. “After all I’ve done for the boy!?”
“What have you done for me besides take my Partner and brainwash me for your own devices? I was happy with Stella.” I gestured toward her. “I had what I wanted and you stole my bliss for what you wanted. I don’t owe you a goddamn thing.”
Yuria pulled out a small flute-looking pipe. “As one of the Masters of these islands, it is well within my-”
“As the Grandmaster of these islands, I say he leaves in peace.” Lahgo cut in.
Yuria tried to argue, but got forestalled with a look. Lahgo gestured for Stella to come over to me and she followed the order without a word, only then looking me in the eye. I saw that she was sad for the conversation, and I don’t want to repeat it, but… “Gatian… Gage…”
“Stella…” I took a deep breath and shook my head. “... The more I think about it, the more I realize I never asked what you want.”
She gave me a small smile. “I’m the Squire of the Grandmaster now…”
“And I couldn’t ask you to give that up.” I smiled back, my eyes watering up. “... My Mom had a saying and she had it for a long time. ‘If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it was meant to be. If not, it was better to have loved and lost than stayed cold in the first place.’... You came back, but… I don’t blame you for staying.”
“Then you understand.” Inova seemed to ease a little.
I nodded back and took a shaky breath. “... Yeah. Be happy, Stella. I’ll be seeing you.”
“Be seeing you.”
And then I walked away.
I turned my back on Stella and got to stepping… The bond between a lovelorn master and an abused slave was… It was a sham of what we could have been. Stella took her chance to do something she well and truly wanted to do, and me? I was left to wander alone without even Bast to console me. I didn’t have a damn thing to my name other than the candle and compass, but Lahgo assured me the rest of my stuff would be brought to me at the edge of the lake once I was fully prepared to leave. A part of me wanted to go back and beg Stella to come and be with me again, but a bigger part knew that I’d made the right choice. I needed to get the fuck out of there, so I left and walked back through the forest until I found a good place to just sit and soak near the edge of the island.
Getting hit in the face with the fact that love was out of my reach hurt, and knowing for certain that Stella no longer held any kind of affection toward me… It made a lot of things seem pointless. It just hurt and I was tired of being somewhere between painfully sober and in regular pain, so I decided to take care of both problems with my never ending flask. Once it was brought to me, that is. I just wanted a stiff drinking and another nap, but I had to keep moving and chose to wait instead of swimming off on a wing and a prayer. It turned out to be one of my better ideas because I saw a fish the size of a fucking cow breach the water to catch a bird that flew too low. It was mad crazy and a good reason to stay dry.
Someone eventually came for me with my stuff on a boat and the trip out of the lake was a short one. I had my feet firmly on the ground once more and only turned back to the islands one more time to make myself hurt that much more, seeing no point in wishing for something that was never meant to be. I couldn’t pretend to understand why prophecy after prophecy popped up and fell through, but I did know that hurting and feeling like I was dying inside was nothing new. My plublass was back, so I played some slap-bass blues and called it my macaroni. Saddened as I was, I found it pretty hard to really give a damn about what was going on since Stella had already made it clear in her own ways that she was with me out of obligation. The blow had been a long time coming, I just wished that it hadn’t hit so hard.
There was nothing like an aimless journey to cloud one’s mind, so instead of continuing to be dumb, I pulled out the compass I had been given and asked it for some guidance. At first, I didn’t know what exactly I wanted since it was a stretch for me to ask an inanimate object to do anything for me, but I asked nonetheless and got it to point directly behind me. I’d asked for a teacher that wouldn’t try to use me, hoping that I could find a way to harness my skills and get myself to a decent place in life. Then I asked for someone that would love me like I wanted to be loved, so I followed the arrow away from Lake Lahgo, Stella, and the life I’d barely been aware of for… Damn, I don’t even know how long I was there... With so much going through my mind, I didn’t realize that I was walking along with little indication of where I was actually going, so I pulled out my map and decided that I was done with Avalesce and everything it had held for me, settling on Stalfisk as my next destination since it seemed to be where the arrow was pointing.
The colder, more advanced country seemed like it would be more my speed since it was the original home of River People and a lot of River People that didn’t choose to settle in Avalesce chose Flistis or Laspone instead because of the cultures there. At least, River People from my time. I had a feeling that Thesuvia was going to be more my speed, but no matter where in Stalfisk I wanted to go, I had to disregard my compass to get there I had to back track and go along lake Lahgo so I could follow the river to my next stop, but that’s ahead in time and right now I just...
I’m… Booksy, I’m lost and I’m hurt. Not literally on either count, but life still sucks enough for me to regret leaving the Academy and not just putting up with being brainwashed. Life was easier when I felt like a zombie, but that’s no way of thinking. Even as I walked along the River of Rebirth in all its grandeur, I couldn’t help but feel more distant from anything than I ever had before. There wasn’t a chance that Stella was going to come back to me anymore. She was free and she was appreciating her freedom. There was no point in becoming a famous musician because all it would bring me was trouble. There was nowhere for me to go since the Char Army had taken down my bastion of Hooversdum, so I decided that I was going to put myself to use my own way.
From now on, I think I’m going to try and help people solve their problems. Maybe being a musician was a bust, but if I could help people in other ways or just make someone’s day better? Well, come to think of it that’s basically all a Bard is.
… I need a fuckin’ nap. Time to set the tent up and get the fire going.
So it’s been the better part of two months since I’ve touched this last and I’m in Thesuvia now. The only reason I knew I even entered Thesuvia was because I came across a pair of Watchers that were all too happy to lead me to their town of choice, though I’d been in the fucking mountains for most of my trip. That shit was long and arduous with little in the way of people around, and I’d grown lean again after being in the rough for so long before I started using somnerre to kill birds. It had been a rough, long journey and I was glad to be in Thesuvia since my destination was clear from the compass. The Watchers were kind and assumed I came out of the River myself, but I told them that I’d been on the planet for some time and they were still happy to help me.
I landed in Holloway Halter, a large town that was pretty friendly toward River People, and my temporary guide Hamishe, was really nice and considerate. He took the time to ask me what had happened to my Partner and I told him the story, not surprised that he was a little upset with Stella for leaving me to do her own thing. I told him that I wasn’t worried about it, but even after my time to find myself and put myself back together after that particular hit, I was still a bit bitter about freeing someone and getting nothing from it other than heartache. I’d wished that I’d just kept Stellara by my side in the past, but fake love isn’t really love and that’s all I would’ve gotten from her. Acceptance was key and I found a spoonful here and there, but… I missed her. I missed her for all she was to me, but that’s not terribly important at the moment.
When I entered Holloway Halter, I was greeted by a whole new place that I’d never have expected to see on Septural. The people around Holloway were all dressed like normal people and the buildings were normal too. At least, it seemed like a place built by River People. I stood out the most with my dirty travel gear and worn out everything, but I felt like I was somewhere I was supposed to be for once in my life. Much to my surprise, there were a lot of Gertts and Ponies around the town, most of them looking down on their luck in their own ways. Some of them were missing limbs or eyes while others simple had a haunted look about them. I assumed that they were refugees from the Char and Scorched incursion I had seen oh so long ago, but these people seemed more or less as though they’d already given up.
Hamishe was all too happy to drop me off at the largest Welcome Center I’d ever seen, complete with people inside and more supplies than I’d seen even in the Academy. When I came in, there was an Amazonian woman that was obviously Thesuvian. The purer the blood, the taller the females and the shorter the males as far as I could tell. It explained why Wolvram had been a tall one, at least. The woman I saw first was easily near seven feet tall, but she seemed as though she wasn’t aware of her size. Our eyes locked and she gave me a warm smile, one that I returned with some apprehension. The talk with Hamishe had gone awkward a time or two since I just wasn’t used to talking to people, but I resolved to try harder to not make a fool of myself.
“Hey there, River Man. Have you been around for a while?” The woman asked conversationally. Her smile was a little shy and her cheeks were a touch rosy, but the tint faded as she spoke.
“Yeah, Septural’s been home for a couple years now. Pros and cons and all that, but life is life.”
“I hear that,” She gave me another little smile, her teeth far more faithfully maintained than any Brits. The accent was close, but the hygiene was incomparable. “Is there any way I can help you? I’m sure you didn’t come here for conversation.”
“... Um…” I blinked. “I… I don’t know what I actually need… Hamishe kinda just brought me here and it seemed like a good place to go.”
“Oh.” She gave me an awkward look. “... You know what all we do here, right?”
“The same stuff as an Avalesch Welcome Centers?”
“Well, most of that stuff. We don’t usually hand out weapons or stuff like that, but we’ll still get you to where we need to go. We also don’t really offer permanent placement, which-”
“I’ve got all the weapons I need and don’t want anyway… I guess I need an undlegar or something. I’ll probably buy whatever I need around town, but I need an undlegar.”
“... Okay?” She looked confused. “Wh-Why an undlegar?”
“It’s the first thing I really enjoyed playing.”
“... So you like difficult instruments?” She tilted her head.
“Yeah, strings and stuff mostly.”
“What about one of your own Earth instruments? We have a few replications here.”
“Ah, that’d be cool… Could I play something for you?” I asked.
The lady laughed, her cheeks pinkening again. “I’ll tell you what, if you can play me something decent, then I’ll do something for you too.”
I raised a brow and looked at the lady, seeing her give me a similar, though less appraising look. I liked the way she styled her hair, her voice was a nice, soft alto, and she was very personable. She also seemed to be acting, but her enjoyment was genuine. “Okay. If I can play you something decent with your instrument of choice in under four hours, then I want… Well, to get cleaned up, first of all, but I want your help in buying a house or finding a place to stay here.”
She stared at me. “... Really?”
“Yeah. I haven’t had a place to call my own since I died.”
“I figured you’d want something… Well, I guess a house is material, but do you have two thousand of any kind of currency?”
“I have around seven thousand Pony Bits that are useless and a lot of Gertt drachs that aren’t doing me any good.”
She raised her brow. “Wow, where’d you get so much money so fast?”
I shrugged. “I’m resourceful and kinda talented.”
“How about I just take you to grab something and we drop the deal thing? It doesn’t sit well with me to hinge something like that on a bet. Besides, I… I don’t usually see too many River People like you...” She trailed off, another blush coming to her face as a woman sitting next to her nudged her.
The Welcomer rubbed her arm and the lady who’d nudged the one I’d been talking to raised her brow. “She’s trying to say that you’re polite.”
“I-It was implied!”
“Oh, thank you. I really do try to be courteous when I can be.” It had served me well in the past. “My name’s Gatian, by the way. Gatian Gauner.”
“Alana Wolvram, at your service.” She rose and offered me her hand across the desk
I shook it, trying not to blush as I thought of a crazy coincidence. “Would you happen to know a woman named Rozana?”
“Um… I think my Grandma was named Rozana after her mother who disappeared.” She said uneasily, giving me an odd look.
“Yeah, I think I know your Great-Grandma. Small world.”
“Long story, kinda boring, really depressing.”
“... Fair enough.” Miss Alana touched her face and her partner just chuckled.
She left her desk at the Service Station to guide me to the supply room where I picked up a viola. I didn’t really want a viola, but it was better than a violin and had a case to go along with it. I tried playing it a few times before I got a solid note out, and once I learned how to get one good note out, the rest followed and I already had a decent understanding of how to make good noises with it. Alana was astounded at my skill but didn’t manage to hide her disappointment when I traded for an acoustic guitar that looked like it would be at home on Earth. When I raised a brow at the look on her face, she just said that I’d been doing well with the one I knew. I chose to explain that I didn’t know anything about violins or bow-string instrument and her composure melted, the act she’d put on giving way to a woman who was outright kind and a bit shy. Apparently she’d made some assumptions about me from my appearance and what I’d told her, but I was proving everything wrong. After that she was a little bashful and it was adorable, but I still needed to play her a song.
The undlegar and plublass translated well to the guitar and playing a real instrument I was familiar with from before just made my day better. Alana was saddened that her shift ended before I could play her something, but then she invited me to go out and explore the town a little with her since she was off I took her up on it and played something as we walked. With a real guitar, the first song I had to play was one of my all-time favorites. Everlasting by Grey Reverend was a acoustic miracle that Alana was fond of, which I accidentally made her cry with. I apologized and she was slow to say that she had been crying because the song was just beautiful. I wanted to cheer her up with a happier song, so I played Clocks on guitar instead of the Ye Olde undlegar and it came out better than expected.
Seeing the sights and able to play music again as I pleased was great. The strings from the plublass had been useless for a while, but that wasn’t the nicest part. I’d yet to check my compass again, but I had a feeling that Alana liked me a little more than she let on. Even if I was kinda smelly and dirty, she freely touched me and seemed to genuinely enjoy walking with me. The thing was that I didn't know if I could trust her or if I was just jumping to conclusions in the first place, but Alana looked like she was having a good time. She showed me to a nice inn and hesitated to ask me if I would come see her again tomorrow. Then she was a little less shy whne asking if I could maybe come up with something she lend a hand toward. It was like a soft jab more so than a real punch when she said that, but I’d assumed romantic interest when it was professional. I knew the score then and berated myself inwardly for being so desperate for affection, bidding Alana fond farewell.
I walked into the inn and made some friends at the bar inside after I put on some clothes that I bought while walking. My unique hair and attachment to my instrument garnered questions that eventually turned into song requests. Kindra, Larry, and Frodrick were all adventurers themselves, or rather the Septurn term for it was ‘Fortune Seekers’, as in they took odd jobs for dangerous stuff in order to get a high reward in congruence with the risk taken. They were a great group and made me feel at home, even if they themselves weren’t from Holloway Halter. Kindra, the female of the group, was a little short with me and kind of rude from time to time, but Frodrick assured me that she was curt with everyone. Larry was the perfect picture of a male Kuudere if Kindra was a tsundere, but between the two of them I still felt like I was one of them. A few songs and many drinks later saw me sharing a bed with Larry, despite his meager, ineffectual, untrue protests. He was blushing the entire time I was in his room, but I wasn’t attracted to him at all. I knew he wouldn’t have minded some action, but I hadn’t found a male attractive in some time. I still recognized handsomeness where I found it, but I think the gay had been drained out of me in the Academy. There were plenty of hot, nailable dudes there and plenty of femboys that I’d seen around town, but I just…
Maybe I left it behind when I decided to throw myself into being Gatian and leave Gage behind entirely. Gatian was straight, apparently, so I didn’t cuddle up to Larry and enjoyed knowing one more thing about myself. It was nice to split the cost for the room, even if I would’ve rather bunked with Kindra and got some real contact with another person. I slept like a rock over the course of the night and found pleasure in sharing a bed with someone, even if Kindra did make jokes about me nailing Larry like a stubborn piece of wood. Frodrick knew better since he’d come in to check on us through the night and had found us trading jokes and whatnot rather than packing fudge, joining us for a bit. The group eventually took their leave from the inn during the early morning hours, so I got to stepping and decided to see Alana again.
There was a part of me that wanted nothing to do with her, but there was another part of me that had seen genuine happiness on her face when we’d been walking. It was an expression that blossomed across her face when I entered the Welcome Center, a wide smile that made me feel a little better about my choice. The first thing she did was brush a stray lock of wavy hair behind her ear, then she stood and evidently dropped something all over herself because she swore and started making motions to clean up behind the desk. She looked back at me, her face flushing with a florid ferocity that I found adorable. One of Alana’s coworkers, a woman I assumed to be the previously mentioned Sotan named Bethany, cracked up and came over to help while her friend appeared to be working herself up over next to nothing. I strode up to them and Alana froze like a deer in headlights, her face red and her friend asking for her help. Stuck, she looked between the tow of us and I waved her off, mouthing, ‘Help the woman!’
Her face became a darker shade of red and she disappeared behind the desk once more, her friend rising as Alana went down. The Sotan gave me a knowing look. “Are you Gatian Gauner?”
“Yeah, are you Bethany?” I asked politely.
She smiled and extended a hand. “Pleased to meet ya, Hun. Looks like you’ve just about got Alana- Oof!” She doubled over quickly and Alana popped her head up.
“Oh, I’m sorry. There was a fly,” Alana said pointedly.
Bethany whacked her back. “Watch it, Dianite.”
“I am not!”
I couldn’t stop the smile on my face as the four-foot woman talked down to someone who was barely shorter than her while bent over on their knees. “I am not tiny! I’m the average size for a Sotan my age, you Diancie!”
I saw a finger come up and Alana opened her mouth, making me laugh out loud for the first time since I’d parted ways with Stella. Well, I’d chuckled from time to time, especially with Frodrick and the Fortune Seekers, but never truly barked out a laugh that showed how I really felt. It was a great little show that made Bethany give me a look while Alana hurried to stand, both women blushing furiously as I worked out the last of my giggles. Then another round started and I walked out, came back in, and saw for myself that it looked like Alana had wet herself, especially since her drink of choice had been a bright, urinary yellow and her skirt was white. I saw that, barely kept it together while she saw me shaking uncontrollably. Alana turned away from me and started to walk away, her shoulders hunched as she probably felt some kind of humiliated. Unlike before when I’d been warring with myself on whether I should’ve gone to see her in the first place or not, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the woman in front of me needed a hug and a smile.
There was no need to lower my stance and creep up on her, but I did it anyway and grabbed Alana after spooking her with a loud, “Boo!”
She started like a fucking engine and shrieked like I’d stabbed her, whirling around to get hugged before she could finish panicking. “Gatian! You utter butthead!”
I let her go and smiled up at her. “What, a little surprise isn’t fair game?”
Alana’s face was still red, her beautiful green eyes looking straight into mine. “... Th-Thesuvians don’t do that…”
I pulled a face. “Well, Earthicans and Americans do it, and I’m an Earthican American.”
“... I don’t think now’s a good time-”
“Oh, come on, Allie!” I grabbed her hand and she went stiff, her face lighting up all over again. “Aren’t you an employee here? I need help!”
She blinked. “Uh… H-Help with what?”
“We didn’t get to see too much of the town before night fell yesterday. If I’m gonna buy a house here., I need a guide. It wouldn’t hurt if that guide was a nice lady with pretty eyes and a heartwarming smile~”
Her face fell. “Oh… I guess you could ask Beth-”
“I was talking about you,” I said, chuckling.
“... Oh.” Her voice was practically a whisper in the wind while she looked down, brushing the same lock of hair back over her ear. “... I could do that… I-If that’s what you really want.”
I offered up my most winsome smile, and by that I mean I smirked but tried to look friendly while doing it. “Well, didn’t you say that I could have your help with something if I played you a decent song with an Earth instrument? Why would I not come to collect on my deal?” The little smile on her face almost melted away until I said, “Wait, I’m sorry, I’m flirting. Earth flirting is different, right?”:
She promptly turned red all over again, smiled like I’d just told her I was a clown on weekends for rich children that liked to kill people, and giggled awkwardly. “Y-Y- I- Uh…”
“Should I try Avalesch flirting? Because I don’t really like Avalesch flirting; it usually involves hurting someone.”
Alana rubbed her arm and kept her weird smile. “... I’m just… W-Well...“
Bethany came up behind her and smacked her ass. “Hey, Lover-Boy is back!”
“Hey, Beth. You wouldn’t mind covering for Allie so I can take her around to- Er, so she can show me the landmarks, would you?”
Bethany smirked triumphantly at Alana who would not meet her gaze. “Told you he wasn’t laughing at you.”
“Beth! Will you stop trying to embarrass me-” Alana started.
“In front of cutie pie over here? Sure!” Beth gave me a smile and a wink. “Alana can be real shy when it’s not the job, so be sweet, will you?”
I blushed a little myself. “I’ll be the picture of a perfect gentleman.”
Bethany raised her brows and nudged the mortified Alana. “Cute and polite? Who said working at a Welcome Center was a bad-” Alana clamped a hand over the short one’s mouth.
Bethany rolled her eyes and stepped away, addressing me before walking away. “Like I said, she’s shy and sensitive like a lot of Thesuvians, so-” That got her hit. “Ow!”
“It’s not like that!” Alana hissed.
“Oh.” I threw every ounce of disappointment that I possessed into my tone and body language, letting it flow naturally. It was a cheap move, but it’s how I honestly felt.
Beth looked at Alana before the taller woman pointed at me. “Don’t you start!”
“... Sorry.” I wrung my hands.
That seemed to upset her even more. “Oh, I didn’t mean like that! I just- I meant- Well, I-”
“Are you going on your date or not?” Bethany asked.
“It’s not a date! It’s work!”
I wasn’t sure if she really meant it, but it was still a damper on my mood. Bethany rolled her eyes. “And you talked my ear off for three whole hours about how much you ‘love your job’, right?”
The ginger gave her a look. “You almost wouldn’t stop talking-”
“Gatian, let’s go!” Alana said quickly. “We’re losing daylight!”
I gave her a muted smile. “... Sure. let’s go.”
Beth sighed and shook her head, walking back to the Service Station. “Whatever.”
Alana held a hand out toward her, but didn’t stop her. “Oh, fiddlefaff!”
I came a little closer while she was looking at Beth. “So… Are we stopping to get you a change of clothes?”
She looked back at me, then down to her skirt. “Oh- Oh, come on!”
Alarm crossed her face. “N-No! I can just put on a different uniform, we can still go!”
The ball was back in my court, and I figured I’d take a shot with it. “Would we still be going if it was a date?” Alana blushed furiously and started stammering like mad, so I took pity on her and said, “I don’t know what you want to call it, but I’ll call it sightseeing.”
“Sightseeing! Yes! That’s what it is!”
“As long as we agree, I guess.” I shrugged.
She nodded rapidly. “I’ll go get changed if you want to wait in the Recreation Wing.”
I knocked on my guitar, strapped to my back as it was. “I’ll just wait here and see if I can get a mini-concert going while you’re gone.”
“Oh, I would’ve liked to hear you play.”
“Hurry up and I’ll play another song just for you~” I gave her a wink.
She smiled back bashfully. “Then I… I guess I don’t have time to waste.” she hurried off, her long legs carrying her quickly to her destination.
True to my word, I started playing my songs one after another until I had all of the employees and some odd River People gathering around to hear what I came up with. Alana didn’t take long, but I still got through Slither by Velvet Revolver before she came back. When I saw her, I knew the perfect song to sing as the water in her hair beaded up and occasionally dripped onto her blouse and the floor below. Drops of Jupiter was made for the moment, and I knew that my message got through to her because when I finished the song, she swooned and had to be caught by an Amanese fellow, there as a Partner to some blonde chick.
Alana turned out to be fine and I got a couple dozen coins for my efforts as tips, which I allocated as date-money. After a few more minutes of talking to people and accepting compliment after compliment, I went to find Alana and she was not nearby. It took the better part of half an hour to convince one of the employees to take me into their Break Room so that I could find her, but when I got there, Bethany was trying to calm her down and Alana herself was rambling on about sweetness and niceness and cuteness in turns before Tara, the lady who’d led me there, let our presence be known. Bethany looked like she was having the time of her life while Alana stared in horror, fainting back onto the couch without further ado.
“I think she likes me,” I said idly.
“Ya think?” Beth chuckled. “Ya’ll are gonna be such a cute couple.”
“I’ll have to give it a month or so before I try to make a real move, but I like her so far.”
“Little slow for a Septurn romance, but I respect it. Alana likes it traditionally Thesuvian anyway, so it’s probably for the best.” Tara chuckled at little and tapped my shoulder with a fist.
“Oh boy, there’s plenty about her to like. If you’re into the shy, bashful, sweet type, then she’s perfect. Just don't try anything too weird and she’ll probably go along with it.” Bethany patted Alana’s leg before I came over and threw my jacket over her lap. She raised a brow. “What?”
“Just saving her modesty. I won’t ask her to pick my nose since that’s probably weird.” I nodded sagaciously.
Beth chuckled at that. “Damn, cute, polite, talented, and funny. Kinda kickin’ myself for stayin’ home yesterday.” She sighed.
I shrugged. “I like my ladies tall anyway.”
“Damn Dianites.” She grumbled.
“What is a Dianite, anyway?”
“They’re just especially tall women. Named after Diana Di Arc, who was taller than any other Human in history.”
“Ah. Why is it bad to be tall?”
Beth raised a brow. “... How do you plan on boinking her again?”
I felt my face heat up. “... Well, it’s not going to be the most interesting sex life unless-”
Tara hit me. “Hey now.”
“What!? It’s where the conversation was going!”
Tara gave me a dirty look. “If you’re not going to consummate it, then you might as well not start it.”
I flipped her off. “Unless Alana likes missionary and riding, then there’s not much I can do about that!”:
“Missionary?” She asked.
Bethany giggled. “I know I had a River Man who called something that. He wanted to try doing it from the front!”
Tara blushed brightly and covered her mouth. “What!?”
“I know, right?” Bethany herself was a little rosy around the cheeks. “He thought I’d do it!”
“... What?” I asked.
Tara looked at me, covering her chest. “You dog!”
“Dogs do it from behind!”
“Because that’s normal!” Bethany cackled. “You River People make no sense! Half of you can only get laid from Welcome Women anyway since frontways is your main way!”
Tara hit me again. “Only whores and Ponies do it like that!”
“Stop hitting me before I hit you back!”
“Oh no, you’re not flirting with me, buster.” She pointed at me.
Bethany lost her shit and Alana started coming to. “Oh my… I just had the worst dream…” She rubbed her eyes and looked at Beth.
Beth looked at her, face ruddy from trying not to laugh. “Hey, Alana...”
Alana’s expression was pensive. “... Yes?”
“Wanna do it from the front!?”
Alana choked on something or other and started coughing like mad, so I stepped out of the room, knocked, then entered all over again. The woman I was there for seemed like she wanted to be in a lot of different places rather than the one she was in. “Hey, Alana. I… Would like to go and sight-see?”
She nodded. “Mhm…” She also made no indication that she was going to move.
“... I swear, I thought you’d like the song.”
She nodded and answered in a small voice. “.... I did.”
“... Should I-”
“Do her from the front!” Bethany shouted.
Alana hung her head, I hung my head, and Tara and Bethany laughed and laughed until Alana stood up, walked up to me, then subsequently asked, “... Is… Is that really the normal way for River People?”
“Is it important? I… I think that’s a little ways down the road…”
Alana curled a lock of her hair. “Yes…”
“... Would you like to go on this da- daytime excursion?”
“... I’d like that.”
And so we got started on actually seeing the town. It was awkward at first, but as I talked about my life on Earth and some of my happier memories, Alana became more forthcoming with her own words and experiences. She offered them up as a way to keep the conversation going, even as we were stopped by people that had heard me play one way or another. It was fun to meet and greet with fans while Alana was with me, especially since she seemed to be more comfortable whenever we weren’t alone with each other. I eventually nutted up instead of just shutting up, deciding to ask Alana to a late lunch. She agreed after a pause, a question obviously on her mind. After lunch and during a more important part of our walk, Alana pointed out the few places that had vacancies and I mustered up the courage to ask what was on her mind.
“Yes, Gatian?” We were in the middle of town, a good distance from the Welcome Center.”
“... Do you mind if I ask what’s on your mind?”
She blushed and swallowed hard. “... W-Well…”
“I’m not going to judge you for your thoughts, if that’s what you’re worried about.” I gave her a supportive smile and laid a hand on her arm.
Alana gulped again and said, “W-Well… I was just wondering…”
“... What… Well… Are you… Are you really interested in me?” She asked, her eyes standing out against the pinkness of her cheeks.
“... I… I think so,” I admitted. “I mean, I find you attractive and I like what I’ve seen so far…”
“... Are you sure it’s not just because I’m well-connected?”
I looked at her. “What do you mean?”
She seemed surprised. “Well, I am a River Representative…”
“... I thought that was just a job?”
“It’s a career, and you make a lot of friends in my position.”
“... I just think you’re cute. I don’t really care about what you can do for me. I don’t need you to do anything for me. If I need something, I’ll do it my damn self.”
“Oh.” I peeked at her again, seeing her smile to herself.
I took a moment to examine her in earnest, seeing that she wasn’t exactly well-endowed beyond her looks and personality. It’s not that I cared, but I did notice that her bust wasn’t anything to write home about if you took her height into consideration, despite her bottom being fantastic. I would’ve put Alana around a C-cup or a large B, but her bottom? Almost perfect for her general vibe. Her body was the least of my worries, her eyes and face being the interesting part of the modest sculpture that was Alana Wolvram. The gentle slope to her jaw made me wonder just what her parents looked like to give her such a kissable cheek, the fullness of her lips that begged for me to press mine against them. I saw the curve of her smile and the stain that she used to dye her lips a rosy, deep red, making her paleness stand out that much more. Even in her uniform, she appeared to fit perfectly into the ‘Shy Librarian’ role perfectly. I’d never known many shy women since it was hard to get close to them in my experience, but it seemed as though Alana wanted company. She just wasn’t always the most socially apt and seemed to be a bit awkward outside her work environment. Alana was definitely a kind cutie with a nice booty, but her personality was the main attraction.
“Gatian?” She asked, looking directly at me. “Is there something funny?”
“Hmm? What makes you ask that?”
Alana curled a lock of hair. “You… Well, you were just smiling at me for a little while…”
“Oh, I guess I got lost in your eyes. Explains why I keep thinking of emeralds and epidote.”
Alana blushed furiously, showing that I’d landed my shot perfectly. “... Earthen flirting is nice.”
“Then I guess I’ll keep on doing it. You know, they say all women love a man in uniform, but I think a woman in uniform is even better.”
She giggled at that. “It’s just a uniform.”
“Yeah, but it looks good on you. Makes me wonder what you wear on a day-to-day basis.”
“Oh, a lot of skirts and blouses. I like smocks and olones too, b-but…” Alana blushed at that for some reason.
“What’s an olone?”
“W-Well, it’s usually a house-skirt or something like that…”
“Oh, so something you wear at home?”
“Y-Yes, but I change whenever company comes over!” She said quickly.
“Um… Olones tend to be on the short side…”
Alana waved her hands and let them rest by her sides. “Mine usually go just past my fingertips…”
I couldn’t help but think of such a wonderful sight and felt my face heat up. “Well, I’d hate to make you change, but I also wouldn’t want you to feel uncomfortable in your own home.”
“... W-Well… Maybe if it’s just you,” She murmured.
I put my hand back on her arm. “I’d keep my eyes in decent places. I know when to look and when to be polite.”
Alana smiled back, glancing at me. “... You’re really sweet, Gatian. Most guys… Most guys that I meet want something from me.”
“I do want something from you, though,” I said, giving her a look.
She didn't seem too surprised. “Ah, I see…”
“I don’t think you do. What I want isn’t material, Alana.”
Her brow raised and she seemed less than amused. “It’s not?”
“Happiness can’t be bought or sold. It can’t be bottled or preserved, but it can be made all the same.”
“I-I don’t understand…” Alana tilted her head, seeming confused.
“Allie, I want to be happy. I want to love again. I want… I want something real.”
She blushed and looked at her hands as she interlaced her fingers. “... Right… Gatian?”
“... I think… Well…” She took a deep breath. “... You should go to the Town Hall to buy a house… There’s an apartment available in my building… I-If you’re interested in being neighbors!”
“I am.” I let my hand slide down her arm so I could squeeze her hand. “You’re alright, Alana. I’m glad I met you.”
“Ah! I-I...“ She got tongue-tied and flubbed her sentence terribly.
I pulled her down to give her a peck on the cheek. ”I’m going back to my inn. The complex is the only one in town, right?”
Alana evidently didn’t trust herself to speak, nodding and saying. “Mhm.”
“Then can I see you tomorrow? I don’t think we’ll get away with this again, but I wouldn’t mind hanging around for a little while. Might put a concert on or something.”
“Mhm.” She nodded rapidly.
I waited for her to actually say something, but when she didn’t I just gave her a good squeeze and got a gasp and a great hug in return. Alana might not have had breasts proportional to her size, but when my face was pressed against them, I had a hard time believing they were anything other than the way they were meant to be. She let me go suddenly and ran away a lot faster than I could have, but I also wasn’t in the mood to run. With her gone and nothing else on my itinerary, I had to do some stuff that I’ll write about next time. For now, my hands are tired and I want a drink. Time for a sip of something burny.
It’s been good, Booksy. I’ll pen this tale some other time.
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Ringtail is the Panda, I'm just the guy that translates for him. Call me Ringo.
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